My quest continues…
Leaving Antwerp, I headed for another dealer, who had the Magnepan MG 12 in demo. He had the new Diapason Neos in too, which he said combined well with Unison’s Simply Italy amplifier. As I love this amp, I asked him to prepare this combo also.
When I got there (thank God for sat-nav!), the shop turned out to be in a house in a quiet street, where the living room had been converted into a (acoustically treated) listening room.
After discussing my needs and expectations over a cup of coffee, the Unison – Diapason combo was ready for take-off. The speakers had arrived just a week ago, and had been playing 24/7 since, so they were somewhat broken in by now. Now do these slender speakers look gorgeous in their walnut veneer, with faceted baffle.
When starting my music, first thing that struck me was the spacious soundstage, with accurate positioning of the instruments. With their size and drivers (a 18 cm paper cone and a 19 mm silk tweeter), they don’t do rumbling bass, but for acoustic music and jazz, they sounded very enjoyable, with a rich, detailed midrange and nice trebles without harshness. Very easy listening; could have listened for hours without fatigue.
We then switched to the MG12s. These were driven by the Ayre CX7e CDP and AX7e integrated (balanced connection). When we started listening, I couldn’t believe my ears… in a bad way! What was happening? It sounded as if the speakers were broken; I first thought the left channel was dead! Joshua Redman’s saxophone sounded thin and harsh. In Shelby Lynne’s “Just a little lovin’”, the bass was very boomy (while I expected it to be on the lean side). The listening seat was nowhere near a back wall; there were Acustica Applicata bass traps in the corners and at the first reflection points. Moving a metre back and forth didn’t help. So not likely the bloated bass was due to room modes. With the stunning sound of the 1.7s in the back of my mind, I was flabbergasted. What was this?
As I was really late for a meeting already (I would finally arrive an hour late…), I said goodbye and left, baffled.
Anyone any idea what had caused this disappointing presentation? Could it be the Ayre wasn’t up to its job? The specs state 60W into 8 Ohm and 120W into 4 Ohm (which would suggest good current delivery), but Stereophile’s John Atkinson measured 51 and 87 W respectively (at 1% THD). So maybe the amp couldn’t provide the necessary current to get a good grip on the bass? Room modes after all? Any other thoughts on this?
PS: I made an appointment for the B&O BeoLab 5s next week. To be continued...
There must be something about the air in Brussels that leads to great speaker quests.... fascinating stuff and goes to show why this hifi lark is a minefield.
I can see how UR and Diapason would make a very enjoyable pairing, and just the sort of thing that would sit happily in my home.
As for your other demo, it's hard to say exactly what went wrong.....but sounds like the amp was struggling. If the dealer knows what he is doing, he shouldn't pair up incompatible amp/speakers............maybe he can shed some light on what went wrong.
In some ways it was a good thing, as you will now be very careful / cautious about matching and placing the Maggies, if they are a contender......almost any speaker can be made sound terrible under the right circumstances.
"Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again." André Gide
Friday, I went for the B&O Beolab5 demo, in the dealer's home. He lives just 200 m from us, so I went on foot!
Entering his living room, I saw 4 Lab5s. Two were used as surround speakers for his home cinema (so that's what we call 'overkill', right?).
The main speakers were less than ideally positioned: the right speaker was straight in the corner (bare brick walls), the left one close to the wall, next to the opening to the kitchen. The music was again played through a B&O streamer (FLAC files).
Everything sounded really balanced and well controlled, natural. Fine detail was excellent. Dynamics were superb. Integration between the drivers was seamless (it's a 4-way speaker). The bass was ground-shaking when the music asked for it; I never before heard - or rather experienced - Limit to Your Love by James Blake this way!
This superbly balanced performance was possible with the automatic calibration system, built in the speakers. It uses a series of test tones, repeated twice for every speaker, and adapts the signal to the space and position. The calibration starts at the press of a button, and is finished in 5 minutes.
The acoustic lens technology for tweeter and midrange driver provides a very broad 'sweet zone' (which IMO is a real plus for a living room); drawback: no holographic, 3D soundstage; though all instruments were clearly audible in the mix, it was difficult to 'see' them on stage. Thinking of it: this is often not possible in a live performance either...
In conclusion: if the Beolab 5s weren't so eyewateringly expensive, they would make for the most rational set-up imaginable (think Oppo BDP-105 + speakers). You can put them wherever you feel, they are truely full range and have a really broad sweet spot, they have all the power you will ever need, and they look like a sculpture.
But... with all these virtues, they still didn't move me like the Magnepan 1.7s + tube amp (especially with voices and saxophone). So no clear winner yet!
Next chapter: a trip to Holland, to taste two very different options: Audio Note and ADAM Compact. And an Octave tube amp! Coming soon (or not so soon; we'll see when time allows...)
Once Tubes get under your skin................................
i know! When I started looking around for a new hifi system, a couple of years ago, I really didn't know where to start. To narrow down my options a little, I decided I would look at solid state amps - no tubes for me! All went well... and then I bumped into the Unisons (first the S6, and then the Simply Italy)....... Resistance is futile!
Wait till you hear the Audio Note.
Good on you for going and having a listen to the Lab 5's!
I also very much agree with your summation of them - my only regret with my Lab 9's is that I couldn't quite justify the financial jump to the Lab 5s, but fortunately the 9's give you a very large percentage of the performance of the Lab 5's for less than half the cost - that law of diminishing returns again I'd say in the case of the Lab 5's.
Indeed anecdotal comment from some owners of both 9's and 5's is that in small to medium size rooms there is not a lot of difference in performance between the two; the Lab 5's supposedly very much come into their own in large spaces.
I agree re the lack of holographic 3D imaging - but would merely say that this aspect of HiFi reproduction is largely an artifice created by multiple microphone and spot miking techniques, and arguably heard at it's best on high quality headphones.
Personally, as a classical musician, I would like my speakers to do more than simply give me a large headphone presentation, and find the Lab 9's/5's give me very much the concert hall experience in classical performance, and natural spatial perspectives on solo or ensemble acoustic instruments as heard in real life, as against a mulit miked recording.
My local dealer, an ex audiophile, has three pairs of Lab 5's in his home for a 7.1 AV setup complete with projector. It might seem like overkill, however Dolby specs call for all channels in a 5.1 or 7.1 home cinema setup to be fully matched, and capable of 105db peaks per channel, all channels driven, and the LFE channel, being mono, needs another 10db on top of that for balance - so 115db peaks. All of this is within the capabilities of Lab 5's, - but very few speakers in the commercial arena outside of professional models, - as they are capable of continuous 108db with peaks to 120db.
As you say, a very rational choice - if you want one of the best setups going for a combined music and movie role, they're difficult to beat on sound quality grounds without spending a helluva lot more money.
Panels of course have a very different presentation, and once heard, can be difficult to drag oneself away from, and I can well imagine someone being so enamoured of them that nothing else will do.
I had the option of getting some rather rare and exclusive Nakamichi hybrid electrostatics brand new - 2 metre high electrostatic panels, sitting atop a box with twin 8" bass drivers, fully active. Amazing transient response and fine detail, and that 3d Holographic soundstage, but I did find the sweet spot was one of barely a few inches, and with a large headphone presentation again; in the end the sheer physical size and need to be placed well away from boundaries being a diopole, mitigated against them for me in a 5 x 4 metre lounge - but my friend who owns them loves them, and I can well understand why.
Will look forward to your reports on your continuing journey - thanks again for an excellent and very fair summation of the Lab 5's.
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